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Gibsonburg, Stritch, Eastwood seek to defend titles
Gibsonburg and Cardinal Stritch Catholic are seeking to defend or go one-up on their co-championships last year with a sole championship this year, while Eastwood seeks to defend in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
Winning close games helps, and so far the Golden Bears have done that. Four of their first six wins came in their last at-bat.
“We've won three in a row on walk-off hits,” Gibsonburg coach Kyle Leatherman said. “We've had some really close games and four of the six wins have come in the final at-bat. It's important to be in tight games and find a way to win. We want to get the girls used to winning or finding ways to win. I feel we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Cardinals are starting four freshmen and two sophomores, so Coach Don Zbierajewski is banking on leadership from his veterans.
“We need to use the whole non-league portion of our schedule to get the young girls some experience,” he said. “I’m expecting (senior second baseman) Lexi (Jagielski) to be the veteran on the infield. The rest of the infield is all freshmen. In order to be successful this year we need some contributions from the lower part of the lineup and we need to play solid defense and show improvement every game.”
The coach adds that Stritch has “definitely looked young” early in the season. He said Gibsonburg is the team to beat in the TAAC.
“We want to win the conference,” Zbierajewski said. “Gibsonburg will be a really tough hurdle for us. We don’t play them in the first go-around in the conference until the last game. Hopefully by then our youngsters have grown up quite a bit and we can be the team I hope we can be.”
Eastwood was off to a 5-0 start through April 7.
“We hope to compete for the NBC title again and play good, solid softball,” veteran coach Joe Wyant said. “We need every player to improve from last year and the two young starters to fit in right away. The NBC is a very good softball league this year again.”
The Eagles graduated three starters from last year’s team in first-team All-NBC shortstop Hannah Hirzel, first-team all-conference first baseman Courtney Rolf and honorable mention All-NBC outfielder Saige Smith. Much of the team’s fortunes are in the capable arm of All-Ohio pitcher Whitney Foster on the mound, and she will face a number of viable foes during league action.
“The NBC is loaded with quality pitchers, prolific hitters and proven coaches,” Lake coach Dave Rymers said. “Every game in the league will come down to who can best eliminate physical and mental mistakes while remaining composed in pressure situations. We want to improve each day, finish in the top half of the league and make a tournament run into districts.”
Despite having some big shoes to fill from last year’s 21-5 team, Woodmore coach Aaron Clouse remains confident.
“We want to win the league, win sectionals and win districts,” he said. “Those are always our goals.”
Picked to finish fifth in the league, the Wildcats started 1-1 after facing Gibsonburg in a doubleheader.
“I think we've actually benefited from not playing a lot of games this year,” Clouse said. “With a new defense, we've had a lot of time to work on the fundamentals. From the start of practice to now, we've come a long way (as far as) knowing what to do, what our position requires. We've had enough time to go at our pace and know the fundamentals of our position.”
Veteran Clay coach Brenda Radabaugh returns six starters from last year’s team and expects the Eagles to be in the hunt for the Three Rivers Athletic Conference title.
“We have solid pitching combined with six returning starters,” she said. “That should be the foundation for a strong defense.”
Clay had a 5-1 record through April 7, with wins over Sandusky (10-0), Sylvania Southview (12-1) and Perrysburg (4-1) and a doubleheader sweep of Anthony Wayne (4-3 and 6-5). After four wins over prime Northern Lakes League programs, the Eagles lost to Evergreen, 9-8.
“We have looked fairly good so far,” Radabaugh said. “We’ve had a few more errors than I would like to see, but that was to be expected with the limited time we’ve been able to practice outside. I expect our defense to continually improve.”
After starting 1-10 last year, Oak Harbor started off the 2013 campaign with a 7-1 record.
The preseason Sandusky Bay Conference rankings had Edison and Perkins at the top with Oak Harbor picked sixth.
In just a short period of time with the program, Coach Chris Rawski has already instilled a culture of winning. He brings with him a resume that features coaching stops at Sylvania Northview and Genoa. As an assistant under Coach Tom Kontak, the 2006 Comets advanced to the Division III state semifinals.
In the Toledo City Athletic League, Coach Kevin Boisselle figured his young squad would take some lumps early in the season, but that hasn’t dampened his hopes for later in the year.
“I’ve basically got five girls who have never played softball before, (including) three first-year pitchers,” he said. “We’re getting better every game. It’s tough when you don’t have pitching. We should make the final four in the City League. From there, it’s up to the girls how far we go.
“Bowsher’s the cream of the crop in the CL, and then Start,” Boisselle said. “We should make the final four. It will be tough, but we should be able to do it if the girls work hard the way they have been.”
Preview: Gallaher returns as the Eagles’ top pitcher. The junior is a three-year starter and “has good movement on her pitches,” according to Radabaugh.
Gallaher’s battery mate behind the plate is once again Novak, a senior and a third-year varsity player. Novak is a co-captain along with Schiavone, who is also a three-year varsity starter.
“Emily works well with young pitchers,” Radabaugh said. “Lindsay plays solid defense and consistently puts the ball in play.”
Radabaugh is also counting on Cowell, Isbell and Susor to lead the way for the Eagles, offensively and defensively. Susor, the team’s leadoff hitter, has moved from left field to center field this year.
“Hanna plays reliable defense and has a strong bat,” Radabaugh said. “Harleigh has good range at shortstop and has an accurate throw, and Honnah has great speed and a strong arm.”
Preview: The Indians entered this week – they were scheduled to play five games - with an 0-5 record. Waite suffered losses to Rossford (twice), Oak Harbor, Swanton and Fremont Ross.
“We’re working hard,” Boisselle said. “We have a lot of first-year ballplayers. Most of our errors have been mental mistakes. We play five games this week, so it’s hard to teach first-year ballplayers how to get better without practice. All the girls are working hard. We’re trying to teach them the game, getting to understand the game, with no practice.”
Waite’s top two returning players are Morgan Boissselle, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, and Wahl, its No. 2 pitcher. Wahl started at third base last year.
“Morgan pitched one junior varsity game last year and she played second base on the varsity later in the year due to injuries,” coach Boisselle said. “She’s struggling with pitching a little bit; basically she’s a first-year pitcher.
“Heidi is doing fine, but she tries to overpower the ball when she pitches. She thinks it’s all about speed. We want her to let them hit the ball, and at least we can field it. That’s what’s hurting us right now, is walks. We lost to Swanton, 18-3, and they had one hit.”
Distel, a JV pitcher last season, is starting at second base and will also see plenty of action on the mound.
“She’s really improved,” coach Boisselle said. “She’s one of the more consistent of the three (pitchers), but if she’s not on, she’s not on. I can see that in warmups.”
Other starters for the Indians include sophomore shortstop Charlotte Beach and senior first baseman Tyra Georgia. Both are first-year varsity players.
Outlook: After going 4-16 two years ago, the Lady Bears came back with a vengeance last season, going 19-8 and sharing the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title with Cardinal Stritch in their first season in the league.
Although Gibsonburg did graduate two of its best players, center fielder Brittany Potts and second baseman Jessica Busdeker, the team has seven letter winners returning, giving them reason to believe that another title contention may be in store.
Pitching ace Danielle Fisher, who went 17-6 last season and had 150 strikeouts in 127 innings, returns and so far is 3-1 with a 3.53 ERA while helping Gibsonburg get out to a 6-1 start.
“She's one of the most vocal leaders on the team,” Leatherman said. “If she continues to do well, we'll go as far as she takes us.”
Alyssa Escobedo, the No. 2 pitcher, started the season 3-0. Leatherman is pleased with her progress.
“She has thrown well and we look forward to her continuing to pitch well,” Leatherman said.
The team's batting order, meanwhile, is as follows: Mancha; Busdeker; Mendoza; Sneider; Rahe; Fisher; third baseman Samantha Hannigan; right fielder Marissa Alvarado; and left fielder Lynsey Perales
So far this season, the Bears are averaging 9.4 runs in their first seven contests.
Preview: The young Cardinals, who shared the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title with Gibsonburg last year, are off to a 2-4 start this season. Stritch graduated six seniors, including five starters, from a year ago.
“Right now we are striking out way too much, so that needs to improve,” Zbierajewski said. “We also need to get Rosa back. She was going to be the leader in our outfield, so it will be great if we can get anything from her this season.”
Mondragon, who suffered a torn ACL during basketball season, is a returning starter along with Veres and Francher. Jagielski, McCourt and Horna were all part-time starters. Veres was a first-team all-conference selection and Francher made the second team.
Veres, who has signed with Owens Community Collge, hit .348 last year. Fancher, who hit .356, takes over the pitching duties from current Owens pitcher and former Stritch ace Katie Turski, a four-year starter. Francher went 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in 26 innings as a freshman.
“What I like about her is the way she’s worked over the summer and winter to get better,” Zbierajewski said. “She throws a lot harder than she did her freshman year, and she’s starting to get that bulldog mentality where she’s not afraid to go after a hitter.”
Preview: First-year coach Jennifer Noonan-Roberts isn’t kidding when she says she has a young team this season.
The Rangers, who were 2-6 and 1-0 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference through April 9, graduated eight seniors off last year’s team, including conference player of the year Cyndi Szperski.
“This team is basically brand new,” said Noonan-Roberts, who coached Northwood’s junior varsity team the past five seasons. “We’ve faced a lot of tough teams early and we learned a lot. We’re hitting the ball well and we’re adjusting pretty well. It’s nice to see them adjust to the quicker pitchers.”
The Rangers’ early losses came against Oak Harbor, Lakota, Swanton, Lake (twice) and Rossford. They beat Rogers and handed TAAC rival Ottawa Hills a 16-4 loss on Tuesday.
“It was nice to start off our league (schedule) with a win,” Noonan-Roberts said.
Vancs, who went 3-for-4 with a home run against Rogers, has been a pleasant early surprise.
“She’s a great team leader and an excellent motivator,” Noonan-Roberts said. “She is an excellent student and she ran cross country in the fall and played basketball this winter.”
Seibert is the Rangers’ primary pitcher and will be expected to have a strong season along with Bonnette, Crispin, Maldonado, Buczko, Napier, Murphy and Georgeson. Napier was one of the team’s top hitters a year ago.
“Marissa Bonnette is a true left-hander and does well at the plate,” Noonan-Roberts said. “She is quiet and gets the job done. Brianna Crispin is a returning varsity letterman who played for the Oregon Hurricanes over the summer. She is hoping to play college softball. Miranda Maldonado is a team leader, and Ashley Buczko can bat left- or right-handed.
“Cortney Georgeson is a great team leader and has a positive attitude, and Emily Murphy is a team leader and a great motivator. She really loves softball.”
Noonan-Roberts said this year’s group won’t use youth as an excuse for a subpar season.
“This team has put in a lot of work in the offseason,” the coach said, “and I expect it to show up on the field. They work hard and have positive attitudes, and they all love playing softball. Even though we lost eight seniors, we have a strong junior class that has made up for that loss.”
Outlook: After finishing second in the Northern Buckeye Conference and winning a Division III sectional title, Woodmore now faces the task of replacing four key players.
Gone are third baseman Kalyn Tate, shortstop Andrea Bouldin, second baseman Jenna Lohr and right fielder Brittany Mondragon. Tate (.348) and Bouldin (.352) helped to provide punch at the plate last year while Lohr and Mondragon provided sound defense. Tate was a four-year starter and Bouldin, Lohr and Mondragon were starters for three years.
But Madeline Phillips, who pitched every inning last season, is back. A force both in the circle and at the plate, Phillips went 21-5 with a 1.29 ERA and hit .478 with nine doubles and 26 RBIs. She was named the NBC's Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Phillips will bat third behind Zollinger (.273) and Willhart. Clowers, who moves over from first, will hit cleanup. Last season, Clowers hit .333 with four doubles and 17 RBIs.
Preview: Last year’s Northern Buckeye Conference champions graduated three starters in Hannah Hirzel, Courtney Rolf and Saige Smith, but the Eagles have plenty of returning talent
Foster was a second-team All-Ohio pick last year after going 21-3 with an 0.95 ERA as a junior. Plus her older sister, Christine, a former Eastwood ace now graduated, is helping Wyant with the team.
Cassidy Rolf returns at third base after earning first-team all-conference and all-district honors a year ago. Rolf batted .466 with 35 RBI and four home runs last season.
Gabel batted .414 with 40 runs last year while earning first-team All-NBC honors, and Young was all-conference at second base while hitting .329. Helm earned honorable mention all-conference honors, while Bushman moves from catcher to first base and Rahrig moves from designated hitter to catcher.
Eastwood’s two new starters are sophomore Krista Jennings in left field and freshman MaKenzie Albright at shortstop.
Included in the Eagle's five-win start was a spectacular comeback victory over Huron. The Eagles were down 4-1 with two outs and no one on in the seventh and came back with five straight singles to title. Then Albright stepped up and hit her first-ever varsity home run in the top of the eighth to win the game. None of Huron's four runs were earned.
Preview: After having an up-and-down season in 2012, Coach Jeff Eisenbrandt is looking for consistency.
The Comets started 4-0 and recently returned from Myrtle Beach, competing in a tournament at the Cal Ripken Training Facility that saw them go 3-0 and Eisenbrandt says the team grew as a unit.
“I like what we're doing as far as team-bonding,” Eisenbrandt said. “I like a lot of what happened down in Myrtle Beach. The girls came together. This year, I'm looking for consistency. Last year, we were inconsistent. We would win games that we shouldn't have won and we lost games we should've won.
“Everybody's working hard. If (the girls) work hard, hustle and make the effort, I think that consistency will happen. So far, so good. They've really been going at it.”
The batting order features Katie Jensen, Ciara Albright, and Haley Plantz hitting in the heart of the order. In Genoa's 10-7 win over Oak Harbor last week, Jensen and Albright each hit a home run and drove in a combined five runs. If Plantz and McKenzie Hoyles, the No. 6 hitter, can complement Jensen and Albright, the team should have a potent lineup.
It's on the mound where Eisenbrandt is hoping his team can give its opponents problems. The Comets trio of pitchers, Paige Neuman, Lea Tyson and Hoyles should give them some versatility.
“I'm hoping with the variety of pitching that we have, we can mix it up,” Eisenbrandt said. “I hope with the combination of the three, we can keep teams off balance.”
Preview: With only three seniors, coach Dave Rymers said the Flyers will rely heavily on a large junior class of players who are eager to prove themselves at the varsity level.
Lake was off to a 2-2 start through April 7, with wins over Northwood (9-2 and 30-9) and losses to Cardinal Stritch (10-6) and Oak Harbor (9-2).
“The leadership of our returning seniors, (including) Kayla Encalado and Sammy Whiteman, will help us learn how to compete and do the little things necessary to be successful,” Rymers said.
Encalado, a second-team All-Northern Buckeye Conference pick last year and a four-year starter, batted .390 with 28 RBI last season.
Allie Kontak (.374) earned honorable mention all-conference honors a year ago, while Woodruff will look to improve on last year’s .279 batting average.
Preview: The combination of good pitching from Sam Durivage, timely hitting, and good defense has helped propel the Rockets to their fast start--one that has come exclusively against non-conference opponents.
Having lost just two players from last season, Oak Harbor, under Rawski, features a front-line starter in Durivage, a number of quality hitters in Allison Wolf, Justine Webb and Theresa Stokes and a defensively-sound infield.
“Sam's done a nice job,” Rawski said. “She's been attacking the hitters and letting her defense work behind her. Sam is leading us in the circle and is a big part of our offense.
“As a team, we will focus on putting the ball in play with two strikes and making the routine play on defense. Webb, Stokes, Florio, Street, Tyburski and Wolf will also be a big part of our offense.”
It's an experienced squad, one that has six players playing their third season at the varsity level, giving the team reason to be optimistic.
For their efforts last year, Wolf, Webb, Durivage and Florio were named honorable mention in the Sandusky Bay Conference.
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